The Stanford Neuro-Oncology Program Research


Corinne Beinat, PhD
Assistant Professor, Radiology (Molecular Imaging Program)

The focus of my research is to develop novel imaging and treatment strategies to detect and better manage cancer. This approach relies first on the identification and validation of molecular targets and biomarkers that are linked with underlying the underlying biology driving the initiation and progression of cancers. We then develop novel small molecule based radiotracers to monitor fundamental molecular and cellular processes occurring in living subjects using positron emission tomography (PET) with the goal of improving cancer diagnosis and management. We additionally develop novel peptide based theragnostic agents for stratification of patients with high receptor expression, treatment with targeted radionuclide therapy, and subsequent monitoring of treatment response. Our overall goal is to develop multiple clinically translatable strategies to improve cancer diagnosis, management, and outcomes.

Juan C. Fernandez-Miranda, MD, FACS
Professor of Neurosurgery

Dr. Juan Fernandez-Miranda is Professor of Neurosurgery and Surgical Director of the Stanford Brain Tumor, Skull Base, and Pituitary Centers. He is internationally renowned for his expertise in minimally invasive brain surgery, endoscopic skull base and pituitary surgery, open skull base surgery, and complex brain tumor surgery. He is highly regarded for his innovative contributions to the development and refinement of endoscopic endonasal skull base surgery, for his ability to select the most effective and less invasive approach to each individual patient, and for his precise knowledge of the intricate anatomy of the white matter tracts required to maximize resection and minimize morbidity on high and low grade glioma patients. His top priority is to provide gentle, accurate, and safe surgery, in a team-based and compassionate approach to patient care.

Dr. Fernandez-Miranda completed neurosurgery residency at La Paz University Hospital in Madrid, Spain. He underwent fellowship training in microsurgical neuroanatomy at the University of Florida, and then continued subspecialty clinical training in cerebrovascular surgery at the University of Virginia, and endoscopic endonasal and open skull base surgery at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). During his 10-year tenure at UPMC, he pioneered endoscopic endonasal approaches to highly complex pituitary and skull base tumors, developed a world-class complex brain surgery program, and led a premier training and research program on surgical neuroanatomy and skull base surgery. 

Melanie G Hayden Gephart, MD
Professor, Neurosurgery

As a practicing neurosurgeon, my daily interactions with neuro-oncology patients uniquely positions our lab to focus on translational neuro-oncology research, combining basic neuroscience, genetics, and tumor biology, with an unique insight into the pressing clinical questions facing patients with brain tumors. My postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Dr. Matthew Scott focused on the cellular mechanisms underlying the genetics and tumor biology of medulloblastoma. My masters degree in clinical research provides insight into the translation potential of newly identified treatments through development of clinical trials. In this way, we bridge laboratory bench research into viable therapeutics for patients with brain tumors. Our ongoing investigations into tumor cell biology, developmental neuroscience, cell signal transduction, and translational preliminary studies of novel therapeutics each feedback into and exponentially advance the field of neuro-oncology. Our discoveries in the lab will develop into hypotheses about novel treatment and diagnostic development, and working with patients and primary samples develops questions for the lab regarding tumor cell biology and normal neurodevelopment.

Gordon Li, MD
Professor, Neurosurgery

My laboratory studies the biology of brain tumors with the goal of developing novel therapeutics for the treatment of malignant brain tumors and translating that research into clinical trials. Currently we are studying a variety of different protein pathways that we hypothesize to be important players in glioblastoma formation and growth. Using retrovirus to modulate gene expression in both primary and immortalized glial tumor cells we have identified a group of kinases that are important in glial tumorigenesis called casein kinase 2 (CK2). In particular we demonstrated that one isoform, CK2alpha, can enhance tumorigenic phenotypes as well as maintain glial cancer stem cells making it an important player in brain tumor biology.  In addition, we are studying tumor suppressors that be used to help treat gliblastoma patients. One interesting candidate we have identified is Ikaros (IKZF1). IKZF1 was previously found to be involved in leukemia, but we demonstrate for the first time that it may be involved in other cancers including brain tumors. By understanding the biology behind how brain tumors occur we will help develop novel and more efficacious treatments for treating this deadly disease.

Michael Lim, MD
Professor and Chair of Neurosurgery
Professor, by courtesy, of Oncology and of Otolaryngology and of Radiation Oncology

Dr. Michael Lim is a Professor and Chair of Neurosurgery at Stanford University.  Dr. Lim obtained his MD from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  He then completed his residency in Neurosurgery at Stanford University Hospital and went on to become a Professor of Neurosurgery, Oncology and Radiation Oncology and built the Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program at Johns Hopkins before returning to Stanford.  Dr. Lim’s surgical interest is in both benign and malignant brain tumors, with a particular interest in gliomas, meningioma, pituitary tumors and skull base tumors. He has extensive experience in new and innovative neurosurgical techniques including image guided surgery, microsurgery, minimally invasive procedures and endoscopic surgery.

Dr. Lim’s primary research interest is developing immune-based therapies against brain tumors. His research laboratory is focused on understanding the mechanisms of immune evasion by primary brain tumors.  Findings from his laboratory are directed towards translation to novel therapies against brain tumors.  In addition to running a laboratory, he also directs the immunotherapy clinical trials program at Stanford.  He currently serves as the principal investigator of several large brain tumor immunotherapy clinical trials based on findings from his laboratory.

Crystal L Mackall MD
Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor and Professor of Pediatric and of Medicine

Crystal L Mackall MD is the Ernest and Amelia Gallo Family Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at Stanford University. She serves as Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Cancer Cell Therapy, Associate Director of Stanford Cancer Institute, Leader of the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program and Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Stanford. During a 27 year tenure culminating as Chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch, NCI, and now through the Mackall Lab at Stanford (, she has led an internationally recognized translational research program focused on immunooncology. She has conducted numerous early phase and first-in-human and first-in-child clinical trials spanning dendritic cell vaccines, cytokines, and adoptive immunotherapy using NK cells and genetically modified T cells. Her work is credited with identifying an essential role for the thymus in human T cell regeneration and discovering IL-7 as the master regulator of T cell homeostasis. Her group was among the first to demonstrate impressive activity of CD19-CAR in pediatric leukemia, developed a novel CD22-CAR with impressive activity in leukemia refractory to CD19 targeting and identified T cell exhaustion as a major feature limiting the activity of CAR T cells. Recently her group has developed a novel approach to prevent human T cell exhaustion. Dr. Mackall’s clinical trials are notable for incorporation of deep biologic endpoints that further our understanding of the basis for success and failure of novel immunotherapeutics. She is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the Americal Academy of Physicians and received the Lila and Murray Gruber Award for Cancer Research in 2019. She serves in numerous national leadership positions, including co-PI on the NCI Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Network (U54), Leader of the NCI Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network, and co-Leader of the St. Baldrick’s-StandUp2Cancer Pediatric Dream Team. She is Board Certified in Pediatrics, Pediatric Hematology-Oncology and Internal Medicine.

Tarik Massoud, MD, PhD
Professor, Radiology - Diagnostic Radiology

My current general interests are in molecular and translational imaging of the brain especially in neuro-oncology, experimental aspects of neuroimaging, clinical neuroradiology, and neuroradiological anatomy. Specific interests include animal modeling, new glioma radiotracer development, molecular imaging of glioma invasion, imaging of protein-protein interactions, studying the p53 transcriptional network, and development of new drug formulations and other therapeutic strategies for endovascular neuro-oncology.

Paul S. Mischel, MD
Fortinet Founders Professor of Pathology

My research bridges cancer genetics, signal transduction and cellular metabolism as we aim to understand the molecular mechanisms that drive cancer development, progression, and drug resistance. We have made a series of discoveries that have identified a central role for ecDNA (extrachromosomal DNA) in cancer development, progression, accelerated tumor evolution and drug resistance.

Michelle Monje, MD, PhD
Professor of Neurology and Neurologial Sciences

My research program focuses at the intersection of neuroscience and brain cancer biology. Broadly, my work has focused on neuron-glial interactions in health and oncological disease. My laboratory demonstrated that neuronal activity regulates healthy glial precursor cell proliferation, new oligodendrocyte generation and adaptive myelination and that this plasticity of myelin contributes to healthy cognitive function. We discovered that neuronal activity similarly promotes the proliferation of malignant glioma cells, driving glioma growth through both paracrine factors and through electrophysiologically functional neuron-to-glioma synapses. Microglial interactions with neurons and neural precursor cells and microglial-mediated disruption of neuroplasticity mechanisms underlying cognitive function following cancer therapies is another area of deep focus. Together with these basic studies, my research program executes preclinical studies of novel therapeutics for pediatric high-grade gliomas and cancer therapy-related cognitive impairment in order to translate new therapies to the clinic. I have led several of the discoveries from my laboratory to clinical trials for children and young adults with brain tumors. My overarching goal is to translate my laboratory’s basic research discoveries  to improve outcomes for individuals with central nervous system cancers.

Robbie Majzner, MD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

Robbie Majzner is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Hematology and Oncology. After graduating with a BA from Columbia University, Dr. Majzner attended Harvard Medical School, where he developed an interest in pediatric oncology. He completed his residency training in pediatrics at New York Presbyterian-Columbia and fellowship training in pediatric hematology-oncology at Johns Hopkins and the National Cancer Institute. During his fellowship, he cared for some of the first pediatric patients to receive CD19 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells, children with B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) who often had no other therapeutic option. Witnessing the success of CAR T cells in these patients drove Dr. Majzner to the laboratory, where he focuses on extending the use of CAR T cells to solid tumors. He has generated and optimized novel receptors to recognize antigens over-expressed on pediatric solid tumors such as GD2 (Mount/Majzner et al., Nature Medicine, 2018) B7-H3 (Majzner et al., Clinical Cancer Research, 2019), and ALK (Walker/Majzner et al., Molecular Therapy, 2017). Current work focuses on imparting multi-specificity to CAR T cells and optimizing these receptors to enhance their efficacy when the amount of target (antigen density) is limiting (Majzner et al., Cancer Discovery, 2020). By drawing on state of the art bioengineering techniques, the Majzner Laboratory focuses on enhancing the potency and specificity of CAR T cells for children with cancer.

Claudia K. Petritsch, PhD
Associate Professor, Neurosurgery (Research)

Dr. Petritsch is an Associate Professor in Research at the Department of Neurosurgery, affiliated faculty member at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and the Stanford Bio-X program. She directs the Petritsch research team and the fresh tissue collection core in Neurosurgery.

Claudia earned her PhD (Dr. rer.nat) at the Institute for Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna, where she trained in cancer signaling, and conducted postdoctoral studies on neural stem cells and asymmetric cell division in the Lab of Dr. Yuh Nung Jan at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of San Francisco, California. After two years as an instructor and head of a research team in Munich, Germany, Dr. Petritsch returned to UCSF to conduct research in oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, angiogenesis and immune regulation in glioma. Dr. Petritsch is an expert in brain stem and progenitor and glioma biology, in vitro and in vivo model development and tumor-immune interactions. Her research identified conserved mechanisms of cell fate determination in mammalian brain progenitors and led to a paradigm shift in understanding how brain progenitor cells self-renew and differentiate. She guided the generation and distribution of several immune competent mouse models for studies of the glioma immune microenvironment.

Stephen Quake, PhD
Lee Otterson Professor, School of Engineering and Professor of Bioenginnering, and of Applied Sciences

Stephen Quake is the Lee Otterson Professor of Bioengineering and Professor of Applied Physics at Stanford University and is co-President of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub. He received a B.S. in Physics and M.S. in Mathematics from Stanford University in 1991 and a doctorate in Theoretical Physics from the University of Oxford in 1994. Quake has invented many measurement tools for biology, including new DNA sequencing technologies that have enabled rapid analysis of the human genome and microfluidic automation that allows scientists to efficiently isolate individual cells and decipher their genetic code. Quake is also well known for inventing new diagnostic tools, including the first non-invasive prenatal test for Down syndrome and other aneuploidies. His test is rapidly replacing risky invasive approaches such as amniocentesis, and millions of women each year now benefit from this approach. His innovations have helped to radically accelerate the pace of biology and have made medicine safer by replacing invasive biopsies with simple blood tests.

Lawrence Recht, MD
Professor, Neurology & Neurological Sciences

Our laboratory views malignant brain tumor (and cancer in general) from the perspective of a wound that does not heal. It is therefore focused on better understanding whether modifying the organism’s response to the cancer process can modify its natural history. This involves a two pronged approach: in the first, we are trying to modify the normal tissue contribution to glioblastoma through manipulating molecules called chemokines. In addition, we are using a state of the art MR imaging technique (in conjunction with our colleagues in the Department of Radiology) to study tumor metabolism in the intact animal. Insights from each of these projects are currently in the process of being translated to the clinic.

Stephen Skirboll, MD
Associate Professor, Neurosurgery

My research focuses on screening strategies to identify and characterize cancer stem cells (CSCs) in human gliomas. We are pursuing this in several ways: 1) a novel colony-forming antibody live cell array to identify distinct CSC surface phenotypes, 2) RNAi screens to identify kinases critical for CSC tumorigenicity, 3) high throughput small molecule and chemical screens to identify compounds that selectively kill or target CSCs, and 4) identifying CSCs using the tumor specific EGFRvIII.

Scott Gerard Soltys, MD
Associate Professor, Radiation Oncology - Radiation Therapy

Dr. Soltys is investigating how to optimize the tumor control outcomes and maximize the quality of life of patients treated for brain tumors. His current trials are investigating the safety of a shortened overall treatment time for patients with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) as well as the optimal radiosurgical treatment of brain metastases. Additionally, in collaboration with laboratory investigators, he is exploring the clinical translation of novel drugs that can overcome the resistance of GBM to radiotherapy.

Dan Spielman, PhD

My interests are in the field of in vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS) and the development of new methods of imaging metabolism within the body. Current projects include 13C MRS of hyperpolarized substrates for the assessment of glycolysis, oxidative phosphorylation, and other key metabolic pathways, optimized mapping of 1H metabolite distributions throughout the body, and quantifying neurotransmitter levels and cycling rates in the brain. In our laboratory, we have focussed on a novel array of both acquisition and analysis techniques for use in preclinical and clinical studies. These developments, which include improved spectroscopic imaging and shimming methods, multinuclear NMR studies, application of estimation theory for optimal data quantification, and the synthesis of new hyperpolarizeable 13C probes, address the inherent difficulties of low concentrations of the desired components, overlapping resonances, and magnetic field inhomogeneities caused by imperfect magnets and magnetic susceptibility variations with the body. Primary applications of this work include cancer diagnosis, treatment monitoring, and prediction of response to therapy, assessment of cardiac function, improved understanding and treatment of metabolic diseases (e.g. diabetes, liver failure) and neurologic disorders including Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and epilepsy.

Reena Thomas, MD, PhD
Clinical Associate Professor of Neurology

Dr. Reena Thomas received her medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC and her PhD from the City of Hope Graduate School in Duarte, California. She completed her training as a resident in Neurology as well as her fellowship training in Neuro-Oncology at Stanford University Hospital. Her research background and interests are focused on immune based cancer therapies and chemokine signaling in glioblastoma brain tumors. She has also been involved in advanced imaging studies of glioblastoma. She is the Director of the Adult Neuro Oncology Fellowship at Stanford.

Albert J. Wong, MD
Professor, Neurosurgery

Our laboratory is focused on understanding the causes and developing novel therapies for glioblastoma. We have discovered a tumor specific variant of the EGF receptor called EGFRvIII. Our work has shown that this receptor plays a role in the formation of cancer stem cells and can be used to isolate and target this cell population. We have developed a unique recombinant antibody to potentially treat glioblastoma which is currently undergoing testing. An anti-cancer vaccine that is based on the tumor specific sequences in EGFRvIII has already been developed and is now being tested in a Phase III international trial for the treatment of recently diagnosed glioblastoma patients. A Phase II trial to evaluate this vaccine in patients with recurrent glioblastoma is also underway.